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- The Right of Way, Volume 5. - 5/10 -
shoulder. She clung to him, as though in him was everlasting protection from the sprite that kept whispering: "You dare not go to confession-- your dreams are done--you can only love." But she had no fear now.
As he looked down at her a swift change passed over him, and, almost for the first time since he was a little child, his eyes filled with tears. He hastily brushed them away, and drew her down on the seat beside him. He was wondering how he should tell her that they must not meet like this, that they must be apart. No matter what had happened, no matter what love there was, it was better that they should die--that he should die--than that they should meet like this. There was only one end to secret meetings, and discovery was inevitable. Then, with discovery, shame to her. For he must either marry her--how could he marry her? --or die. For him to die would but increase her misery.
The time had passed when it could be of any use. It passed that day in the hut on Vadrome Mountain when she said that if he died, she would die with him--"Where you are going you will be alone. There will be no one to care for you, no one but me." Last night it passed for ever. She had put her life into his hands; henceforth, there could never be a question of giving or taking, of withdrawing or advancing, for all was irrevocable, sealed with the great seal. Yet she must be saved. But how?
She suddenly looked up at him. "I can ask you anything I want now, can't I?" she said.
"You know that when I ask, it is because I want to know what you know, so that I may feel as you feel. You know that, don't you?
"I know it when you tell me, wonderful Rosalie." What a revelation it was, this transmuting power, which could change mortal dross into the coin of immortal wealth!
"I want to ask you," she said, "who was Kathleen?" His blood seemed to go cold in his veins, and he sat without answering, shocked and dismayed. What could she know of Kathleen?
"Can't you tell me?" she asked anxiously yet fearfully. He looked so strange that she thought she had offended him. "Please don't mind telling me. I should understand everything--everything. Was it some one you loved--once?" It was hard for her to say it, but she said it bravely.
"No. I never loved any one in all the world, Rosalie--not till I loved you."
She gave a happy sigh. "Oh, it is wonderful!" she said. "It is wonderful and good! Did you--did you love me from the very first?"
"I think I did, though I didn't know it from the very first," he answered slowly. His heart beat hard, for he could not guess how she should know of Kathleen. It was absurdly impossible that she should know. "But many have loved you!" she said proudly. "They have not shown it," he answered grimly; then added quickly, and with aching anxiety: "When did you hear of--of Kathleen?"
"Oh, you are such a blind huntsman!" she laughed. "Don't you know where my little fox was hiding? Why, in the shop, when you held the note-paper up to the light, and looked startled, and bought all the paper we had that was water-marked Kathleen. Do you think that was clever of me? I don't."
"I think it was very clever," he said.
"Then she-Kathleen--doesn't really matter?" she asked eagerly. "Of course she can't, if you don't love her. But does she love you? Did she ever love you?" "Never in her life."
"So of course it doesn't matter," she rejoined. "Hush!" she added rapidly. "I see some one coming in the trees yonder. It may be some one for me. Father knows I come here sometimes. Go quickly and hide behind the rocks, please. I'll stay and see who it is. Please go--dearest."
He kissed her, and, keeping out of sight, got to a place of safety a few hundred feet away.
He saw the new-comer run to Rosalie, speak to her, saw Rosalie half turn in his own direction, then go hastily down the hillside with the messenger.
"It is her father!" he exclaimed, and followed at a distance. At the village he learned that M. Evanturel had had another seizure.
SIX MONTHS GO BY
Spring again--budding trees and flowing sap; the earth banks removed from the houses, and outside windows discarded; the ice tumbling and crunching in the river; the dormant farmer raising his head to the energy and delight of April.
The winter had been long and hard. Never had there been severer frost or deeper snow, and seldom had big game been so plentiful. In the snug warm stables the cattle munched and chewed the cud; the idle, long-haired horses grew as spirited in the keen air as in summer they were sluggish with hard work; and the farm-hands were abroad in the dark of the early mornings with lanterns, to feed the stock and take them out to water, singing cheerfully. All morning spread the clamour of the flail and the fanning-mill, the swish of the knife through the turnips and the beets, and the sound of the saw and the axe, as the youngest man of the family, muffled to the nose, sawed the wood into lengths or split the knots.
Night brought the cutting and stringing of apples, the shelling of the Indian corn, the making of rag carpets. On Saturday came the going to market with grain, or pork, or beef, or fowls frozen like stones; the gossip in the market-place. Then again sounded jingling sleigh-bells as, on the return road, the habitant made for home, a glass of white whiskey inside him, and black-eyed children in the doorway, swarming like bees at the mouth of a hive.
This particular winter in Chaudiere had been full of excitement and expectation. At Easter-time there was to be the great Passion Play, after the manner of that known as The Passion Play of Ober-Ammergau. Not one in a hundred habitants had ever heard of Ober-Ammergau, but they had all shared in picturesque processions of the Stations of the Cross to some calvaire; and many had taken part in dramatic scenes arranged from the life of Christ. Drama of a crude kind was deep in them; it showed in gesture, speech, and temperament.
In all the preparations Maximilian Cour was a conspicuous and useful official. Gifted with the dramatic temperament to a degree rare in so humble a man, he it was who really educated the people of Chaudiere in the details of the Passion Play to be produced by the good Catholics of the parish and the Indians of the reservation. He had gone to the Cure every day, and the Cure had talked with him, and then had sent him to the tailor, who had, during the past six months, withdrawn more and more from the life about him, practically living with shut door. No one ventured in unless on business, or were in need, or wished advice. These he never turned empty away.
Besides Portugais, Maximilian Cour was the one man received constantly by the tailor. With patience and insight Charley taught the baker, by drawings and careful explanations, the outlines of the representation, and the baker grew proud of the association, though Charley's face used to haunt him in his sleep. Excitable, eager, there was an elemental adaptability in the baker, as easily leading to Avernus as to Elysium. This appealed to Charley, realising, as he did, that Maximilian Cour was a reputable citizen by mere accident. The baker's life had run in a sentimental groove of religious duty; that same sentimentality would, in other circumstances, have forced him with equal ardour into the broad primrose path.
In the evening hours and on Sunday Charley had worked at his drawings for the scenery and costumes of the Play, and completed his translation of the German text, but there had been days when he could not put pen to paper. Life to him now was one aching emptiness--since that day at the Rest of the Flax-beaters Rosalie had been absent. On the very morning after their meeting by the river she had gone away with her father to the great hospital at Montreal--not Quebec this time, on the advice of the Seigneur--as the one chance of prolonging his life. There had come but one letter from her since that hour when he saw her in the Seigneur's coach with her father, moving away in the still autumn air, a piteous appeal in her eyes. The good-bye look she gave him then was with him day and night.
She had written him one letter, and he had written one in reply, and no more. Though he was wholly reckless for himself, for her he was prudent now--there was nothing else to do. To save her--if he could but save her from himself! If he might only put back the clock!
In his letter to her he had simply said that it were wiser not to write, since the acting postmistress, the Cure's sister, would note the exchange of letters, and this would arouse suspicion. He could not see what was best to do, what was right to do. To wait seemed the only thing, and his one letter ended with the words: Rosalie, my life is lived only in the thought of you. There is no hour but I think of you, no moment but you are with me. The greatest proof of love that man can give, I will give to you, in the hour fate wills--for us. But now, we must wait--we must wait, Rosalie. Do not write to me, but know that if I could go to you I would go; if I could say to you, Come, I would say it. If the giving of my life would save you any pain or sorrow, I would give it.
Sitting on his bench at work, it seemed to Charley that sometimes she was near him, and more than once he turned quickly round as though she were, in very truth, standing beside him. He thought of her continually, and often with an unbearable pain. He figured her in his mind as pale and distressed, and always her eyes had the piteous terror of that last look as she went away over the hills.
But the weeks had worn on, then the Seigneur, who had been to Montreal, came back with the news that Rosalie was looking as beautiful as a picture. "Grown a woman in beauty and in stature; comely--comely as a lady in a Watteau picture, my dear messieurs!" he had said to the Cure, standing in the tailor's shop.
Replying, the Cure had said: "She is in good hands, with good people, recommended to me by an abbe there; yet I am not wholly happy about her. When her trouble comes to her"--Charley's needle slipped and pierced his finger to the bone--"when her father goes, as he must, I fear, there will be no familiar face; she will hear no familiar voice."
"Faith, there you are wrong, my dear Cure" answered the Seigneur; "there'll be a face yonder she likes very well indeed, and a voice she's
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